Minnesota to require 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040

Enel Green Power's 150 MW Aurora Solar in Minnesota. NREL Analyst Jordan Macknick and Jake Janski of Minnesota Native Landscapes survey the Aurora Solar Project's low-impact installation. (Photo courtesy: NREL)

Minnesota utilities would be obligated to transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 to step up the fight against climate change under a bill passed by the Legislature.

The bill was passed by the Senate on Feb. 2 and cleared the House the week prior. It’s a top priority for Democrats, who control both chambers, and for Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who has made it an important part of his climate agenda. The bill is now ready to be signed into law by the governor.

“Climate change is coming and has been here, and it affects everything we do,” the lead author, Democratic Sen. Nick Frentz, of North Mankato, said at the start of a debate that lasted well into the night.

The Senate’s two meteorologists — Democratic Sens. Nicole Mitchell, of Woodbury, and Robert Kupec, of Moorhead — detailed for their colleagues how climate change is accelerating across Minnesota. They said it’s leading to more extreme weather events, as well as hotter summers with more droughts and warmer winters with shorter ice-fishing seasons.

Senate Republicans said they planned to offer a long list of amendments that they said would reduce the costs to consumers and risks to the power grid, but the one-seat Democratic majority held firm on the first several votes.

According to the Clean Energy States Alliance, 21 other states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have already established some kind of 100% clean-energy standards or goals, most with target dates between 2040 and 2050.

Xcel Energy’s 2.2 GW Sherco coal-fired power plant in Becker, Minnesota. (Courtesy: MPCA/Flickr)

Minnesota’s previous standard, set in 2007 by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, set a goal of reducing overall statewide greenhouse emissions to at least 15% below 2005 levels by 2015, 30% by 2025 and 80% by 2050.

State regulators reported earlier in the week leading up to the Senate vote that Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions declined by 23% between 2005 and 2020 and said the state was on track to achieve 30% by 2025. The biggest drop was in power generation, where emissions fell 54% amid the switch from coal to renewable energy.

This year’s bill aims to further shift utilities away from fossil fuels to wind and solar, but it also allows them to use hydropower, biomass, hydrogen and existing nuclear plants to go carbon-free. Utilities that can’t quit coal or gas on their own could ask regulators to let them use “off ramps” to delay compliance, or they could use renewable energy credits to make up the difference.

Minnesota’s biggest utility, Xcel Energy, supports the legislation, saying it fits wit

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